The New Religion

By Chris Abani b. 1967 Chris Abani
The body is a nation I have not known.
The pure joy of air: the moment between leaping
from a cliff into the wall of blue below. Like that.
Or to feel the rub of tired lungs against skin-
covered bone, like a hand against the rough of bark.
Like that. “The body is a savage,” I said.
For years I said that: the body is a savage.
As if this safety of the mind were virtue
not cowardice. For years I have snubbed
the dark rub of it, said, “I am better, Lord,
I am better,” but sometimes, in an unguarded
moment of sun, I remember the cowdung-scent
of my childhood skin thick with dirt and sweat
and the screaming grass.
But this distance I keep is not divine,
for what was Christ if not God’s desire
to smell his own armpit? And when I
see him, I know he will smile,
fingers glued to his nose, and say, “Next time
I will send you a down as a dog
to taste this pure hunger.”

Chris Abani, “The New Religion” from Hands Washing Water. Copyright © 2006 by Chris Abani. Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press.

Source: Hands Washing Water (Copper Canyon Press, 2006)

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Poet Chris Abani b. 1967


Subjects Living, Nature, The Body, Religion, God & the Divine, Christianity

 Chris  Abani


Chris Abani is part of a new generation of Nigerian writers working to convey to an English-speaking audience the experience of those born and raised in that troubled African nation. Abani began writing at a very young age and published his first novel, Masters of the Board, while still a teenager. The plot of the novel, a political thriller, proved uncomfortably close to actual events; it mirrored a coup that was carried out in . . .

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SUBJECT Living, Nature, The Body, Religion, God & the Divine, Christianity


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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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